Jessica Springsteen talks, but not about her dad, after Olympic equestrian debut

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TOKYO, - AUGUST 03: Jessica Springsteen riding her horse Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve clears a gate during the Jumping Individual Qualifier event at Equestrian Park during the Tokyo Olympics. This is during the Tokyo Olympics.Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 in Tokyo, {stmens}. (Gary Ambrose / For the Times)
Jessica Springsteen rides horse Don Juan van de Donkhoeve over a gate during the show jumping individual qualifier at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday. (Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

Jessica Springsteen approached the reporters lining a partition inside an interview area and glanced at the voice recorders piled onto three brown plastic trays in front of her.

“Wow,” she said.

If you can’t start a fire without a spark, as her father famously sang, then maybe the horde of media who came to see show jumping’s biggest last name in the Tokyo Olympics could ignite interest in a sport often confined to the privileged.

It would certainly help if the daughter of musicians Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa could talk about more than her horse.

As reporters waited to speak with Jessica Springsteen on Tuesday night, they were warned not to ask about her family. Reporters who promised to ask about her performance in the individual jumping qualifier at Equestrian Park were identified, and theirs were the only questions taken before a media manager from U.S. Equestrian halted the interview after 1 minute and 26 seconds.

Jessica Springsteen clears a gate on horse Don Juan van de Donkhoeve during show jumping individual qualifying Tuesday.
Jessica Springsteen clears a gate on horse Don Juan van de Donkhoeve during show jumping individual qualifying Tuesday. (Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

That nearly equaled the amount of time Springsteen lasted in her Olympic debut. She finished in an 11-way tie for 31st place, needing to finish 30th or higher to advance to the individual final. Her 12-year-old horse, Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, toppled a few bars toward the end of a routine he finished in 87.15 seconds on an uncharacteristically cool, breezy night.

At the time she spoke with reporters, Springsteen was clinging to hopes that she might advance, having been in 24th place with 24 riders left to compete. She praised her horse and said any faults in the routine were hers alone.

“My horse jumped unbelievable,” said Springsteen, 29, who was born in Los Angeles but splits most of her time between a home in Florida and European competitions. “I really couldn’t be happier with him.”

Having been eliminated from her first competition on this stage, the youngest member of the United States’ show jumping team will next compete on Friday alongside more seasoned counterparts Kent Farrington, 40, Laura Kraut, 55, and McLain Ward, 45. Farrington and Kraut were also eliminated in the individual competition Tuesday, and Ward did not compete.

Springsteen wasn't a year old when Kraut made her Olympic debut in 1992 in Barcelona. Two decades later, Springsteen accompanied the U.S. team to the London Olympics in 2012 but did not compete. She did not qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, making her appearance here even more meaningful.

“Just to be selected to this team with riders that I’ve looked up to throughout my career is a huge honor for me, and it’s great to be here,” Springsteen, ranked No. 14 in the world, said during a pre-race media conference in which reporters were once again requested not to ask about her family.

Springsteen first sat on a pony when she was 4 and had her own pony by 6, taking up show jumping after her family moved from California to New Jersey. She has said riding horses has given her confidence, and told CNN in 2019 that her father found watching her ride “really relaxing.”

Her parents were presumably watching from afar Tuesday, with Bruce’s Broadway show on hiatus until Aug. 17. A middle child, Jessica once contributed to one of her father’s songs, joining older brother Evan and younger brother Samuel in providing background vocals on “Down in the Hole.” She studied psychology at Duke, earning her undergraduate degree in 2014, before making show jumping a full-time endeavor.

Jessica secured her Olympics invitation after helping the U.S. take first place at the Nations Cup Wellington in March and finishing third at the Rolex Grand Prix of Rome in May.

She’s bonded with the horse she’s ridden for nearly two years, saying he’ll whinny every time she walks into the barn.

Jessica Springsteen's horse prepares to leap an obstacle.
Jessica Springsteen rides horse Don Juan van de Donkhoeve over a gate during showing jumping qualifying Tuesday. (Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

“He’s a stallion, but he’s a really kind horse,” Springsteen said. “He’s super brave, he’s so talented, he does everything so easy, and he really gives me a lot of confidence when I’m going in the ring because I know him like the back of my hand now and he’s so reliable, so that gives me a really good feeling for my first experience at a championship.”

Show jumping can be the domain of the rich and famous, with the daughters of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Selleck also among the elite competitors. Reporters seeking Springsteen’s thoughts on whether her sport should be more inclusive would have to wait.

There was no time for answers, thoughtful or otherwise. Springsteen walked away after taking five questions, leaving her inquisitors dancing in the dark.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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